Consider this review a primer on Amy Campbell, if you will. Use it as a prod and toss it aside, for there surely will be other critics more important than myself and with bigger names and assuredly with more writing talent to raise the flagon to Campbell's obvious talent. Consider this a TV ad and Oh Heart, Oh Highway the movie. But do yourself a favor and consider it.
A friend recently used Joni Mitchell's and Campbell's names in the same breath and before you smirk, consider this: Parallels can be drawn. Not necessarily in terms of the actual music, though Words For This and Horizon are to me reflections of early Joni on a less glassy pond. No, I think it might be more in terms of the intangibles, those things you hear and emotions you feel that stop just short of words. I hear it in Joni's music, especially the early works. I hear it here, too.
Amy Campbell lived with Oh Heart, Oh Highway for three long years and maybe more before stamping it ready. The story is love gained and lost (Oh Heart), and the resulting realization of self and healing (Oh Highway), but it is hardly that easy. To fully appreciate it, you need to take it one song at a time and sift for meaning, remembering that it is as much what you bring to it as what it is. Love, loss, healing and worth. It is a cycle, but one no less meaningful because others experience it. It is intense, it is beautiful, it is heartrending and uplifting. And it is not fun when it happens to us, but don't we all come out of the other end of the tunnel a little wiser?
Campbell did. Or should I say, I think she did. Not long ago, I learned that one of my favorite songs, Jess Pillmore's Open My Mouth, a song of unimaginable tragedy and love, began as a mere study. A band she auditioned for wanted to see what she could do on the fly and this tale of incredible heartbreak just happened. So I'm not really sure if Oh Heart, Oh Highway really happened to Amy Campbell. My point is that it doesn't matter. Imagined or real, the music brings it all full circle. And, oh, what music.
I do hear whispers of Joni, but only whispers. I also hear sighs of Antje Duvekot and breaths of Carolyn Arends and quiet rumbles from a myriad of songs which have plucked my heartstrings. With Campbell, it is not just the song, it really is what you bring to it, the melding of artist and listener. That's the real magic. It always is. My heart has soared with Neko Case's Star Witness and cried with Amy Speace's Water Landing". Danny Schmidt's Leaves Are Burning shreds my soul (Joia Wood's background vocals are nothing short of demonic) and Carrie Biell's Swinging practically stops my heart. Those songs are as much mine as theirs.
It is no different with Campbell. Oh Heart, Oh Highway, the song, reaches as deep as any of those mentioned. Spiritual and surreal, yet grounded, it hits chords which have to have been predetermined, they are so right. And Campbell's delivery—when her voice breaks on the chorus, even though I know it's coming, I am stunned. Song of the Year.
The album is my pick for Album of the Year as well. Campbell had a vision for this and put it together amazingly well. One CD, a booklet, then another CD. You can buy the CDs separate if you want, but you get the booklet only with the two-CD package. Titled Metanoia (just as the first CD is Oh Heart and the second Oh Highway), it is a tiny CD-sized collection of poetic prose, bridging the space between the said Heart and Highway. Maybe not much on its own (then again, maybe it is), in the context of the package it serves good purpose.
There is a series of Amy Campbell's performance videos on YouTube, recorded at (I believe) the Black Walnut. While not super-professional, they are good quality and very listenable. They will also give you a glimpse of someone we should be hearing a lot more of in the future. If we don't, there really is something wrong with this world.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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